The Significance of the Individual and the Concept of the Social in the work of Carl Schmitt
Timothy Howles

October 31, 2023, 8:00pm - 9:30pm

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Monash University

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The essay The Significance of the Individual was one of Carl Schmitt’s first publications in 1914. It is by no means an easy read. But for those who do pick it up, this text might seem to reinforce a portrait of Schmitt we had already assumed. For here we find Schmitt the “anti-individualist”, willing to confer dignity to individuals only on the basis of their functional utility to the constitutional state. This hardly seems the basis for a social contract worthy of the name. In this presentation, however, I wish to take another look at this early text. For rather than brute submission of individuals to the state, leading to social undifferentiation, Schmitt actually claims to be offering a “metaphysics of the self”, leading to emancipation and flourishing of individuals within a larger aggregate. Thus, he writes: “the derivation of the value of the individual from its task […] does not destroy the dignity of the individual. Rather, it opens up the possibility of a justified dignity in the first place”. By considering this little-known early text, I will try to show how Schmitt envisages humans transitioning from an atomised and antagonistic state of nature to a form of harmonious social existence, and how this sets the scene for his later (and better-known) work in political philosophy.

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